August 23, 2015

Storytelling in 30 seconds - can you do it?

It's been a while since I posted about a TV commercial (ah, the beauty of the DVR), but here's one I came across recently that perfectly demonstrates the concepts of concise, compelling and clear storytelling. The message is delivered in 30 seconds, through visuals, music and exactly two spoken sentences.

Can you be this concise, compelling and clear in your messaging? Can you paint a picture with a few words and some visuals? I dare you to try!

August 12, 2015

Lessons from driving: Don't be a mechanical speaker

(c) Jenny Rollo
Do you remember what it was like when you were learning how to drive? There were so many things to pay attention to, so many details.

Where do I put my hands and my feet? When is it too soon or too late to press the brake pedal? How much pressure do I put on the gas? How exactly can I keep my eyes on the road if I'm also trying to look into two rear-view mirrors? And how exactly do I change the radio station while keeping both hands on the wheel?

I remember scraping against a pole in a narrow driveway because I just didn't have a concept of how wide my mom's car was!

When you're learning, every move is a conscious one. It can be overwhelming and even scary - especially when you're on the road in a 3,500-pound vehicle, trying to follow the rules of the road, drive the speed limit, change lanes, not crash into anything and not get a ticket!

Now, think about what it's like for you after having been driving for 30 or 40 years.

Most of what we do is completely unconscious. It's just natural to move our feet, hands, and eyes simultaneously in the practice of braking, accelerating, entering traffic, avoiding a raccoon crossing the road, taking a call on Bluetooth, and a million other things we do every day. In fact, I imagine that all of us have had that experience where we're SO much on autopilot that we get to a place and don't even know how we got there.

As a speaker, you aim for somewhere between ultra-conscious and ultra-autopilot.

If you have to consciously think about every motion, every facial expression, every story, you come across as wooden, rigid, or staged.

However, if you deliver every presentation on autopilot, then you lack attention and presence, and you lose your connection to the audience.

Both extremes put you into a mechanical mode that your participants can see and feel, making for an uncomfortable audience experience, to say the least.

How do you develop this speaking approach that's conscious but not too self-conscious, and autopilot but not in the clouds?

One thing: Practice.

Get in front of audiences every chance you get. Speaking to lots of audiences helps you get over the self-conscious over-awareness of everything your body and mind are doing.

Speaking to lots of audiences also allows you to get used to being in the moment and getting used to going with the flow of unexpected conversations and relationships that arise with each new group.

I certainly don't want to go back to the old days of having to think about every single thing my body is doing when I'm on stage. But I don't want to become so complacent about speaking that I don't even connect with my audiences.

How about you? Are you more self-conscious or more autopilot? How can you come closer to the middle?

July 27, 2015

It's a marathon, not a sprint

In May of this year, a long-time social media contact got in touch with me and scheduled a coaching consultation. She knew she needed coaching and was ready to roll. We spoke a couple of days later and put our first session on the calendar. She knew she was going to be busy, so we put our first session on the calendar a few weeks out.

Weeks passed and our first session approached. We got on the phone, but she wasn't feeling well, so we rescheduled.

The next week, she still wasn't feeling well, so we rescheduled.

Eventually, she discovered that what she thought was a simple illness was something more complicated that would require time and medications to heal. A couple more weeks went by.

FINALLY, we had a date on the calendar where she was feeling better and was ready to move forward.

Then *I* got sick.

And we rescheduled.

More than a month after our first scheduled session, we still haven't met. But guess what: Her speaking gig isn't until October. We've got plenty of time!

This is a bit of an extreme example of what can happen in trying to work out a coaching schedule between me and my clients, but the point is this:

When you don't give yourself enough time to go through the coaching process, to fit the sessions into your schedule, to do the homework, to practice, and to work around unexpected situations (my clients have had car accidents, births and deaths in the family, plumbing emergencies, illnesses, last-minute work trips and meetings, sick children and more that interfered with their careful planning), you are undermining your own possibilities of success.

If you're a less-experienced speaker, it's even more critical to give yourself plenty of time to fit your coaching and your implementation around your schedule. Think of your preparation as more of a marathon than a sprint. It's going to take some time to get to the finish line. Give yourself the time!

We're all busy, so when you call me for coaching and your presentation is in two weeks, how can you expect stellar results when you know you're going to be scrambling to get it together - and maybe dodging emergencies and unexpected monkey wrenches at the same time? Never mind my unexpected emergencies and monkey wrenches.

When you get the gig, that's when you call for the consultation. Presentation is still five months away? PERFECT. Take the time - you'll need it!


Do you have a speaking engagement on your calendar? Don't wait till the last minute. Schedule your free consultation now!

June 23, 2015

Thou shalt hide thy weirdness: Guest post by Jason Kotecki

Jason is a non-caped crusader fighting against Adultitis. I've been a fan of his work for years, and when he offered me this post, I jumped at the chance to share his writing with you.

If you've participated in my "Public Speaking for Awkward Dorks" program, you know that I'm already a big fan of weird. Enjoy Jason's post, and check out the link at the bottom to his new book!

Thou Shalt Hide Thy Weirdness

One day my four-year-old daughter Lucy was skimming down the sidewalk on her kick scooter.


She was gripping the handlebar with one hand and holding an open umbrella with the other. While wearing a bike helmet and snow boots. On a sunny, seventy-three-degree day.


It’s so weird that I’d bet anything that of the six billion plus people in the world, not one other person was doing and wearing the exact same thing at that moment. Maybe not ever or since. That’s as weird as it gets.

It was also a great big life lesson.

You see, in Lucy’s head, there was nothing weird about it. She was in the moment, free of pretense, and free of shame. She was living life the way it was meant to be lived.

Oh, how I wish I could be that free again.

In fact, we all were, in the beginning, when we were young. But eventually someone sees us living our bliss, decides it’s weird, and shames us. We get made fun of in the schoolyard, on the bus, or across the dinner table. For the first time, it occurs to us that some of the things we do might be looked upon with contempt by another person.

From then on, we start paying attention. We start noticing what’s “in” and what’s not. We take heed of the things that could get us ridiculed, singled out, and shamed. And we stop doing them. We smooth out the rough edges and start hiding our weirdness. And one by one, little parts of us die.

It’s quite possibly the greatest tragedy of our lives that as we end up spending most of them conforming to the world around us, all to avoid that feeling of shame ever again.

But the weird part of us is what makes us unique. And the unique part of us is what the world needs most.

Speaker, author, self-proclaimed freak, and my friend, David Rendall, says, “What makes us weird is what makes us wonderful.” He offers up Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a perfect example. His unusual nose was weird; the subject of ridicule and derision. But on that fateful “foggy Christmas Eve,” it became an irreplaceable advantage, making him a hero.

Once in a while, you’ll see an elderly person who quit buying in to the lie that our weirdness is a weakness. They’re livin’ la vida loca, carefree and without reservation. On the surface, it’s easy to write them off as experiencing early stage dementia. But if you look closer, you’ll see that they have all their wits about them. They’ve just decided it’s too expensive to pay attention to what everyone else thinks, so they stopped trying to hide their weirdness.

They discovered that people only have the power to shame us if we give it to them.

Well I don’t want to wait till I’m seventy to embrace that truth. I don’t want to hide the best part of myself under a bushel. I want to live my life like Lucy: free, in the moment, and gloriously weird.

Won’t you join me?

- - -

Jason Kotecki is an artist, professional speaker, and author of the book "Penguins Can't Fly +39 Other Rules That Don't Exist," which uncovers some of the most useless so-called rules we can find ourselves living by. It explores some small but mighty actions you can take to turn your life into the fun, adventurous and exciting story you deserve. This beautiful 240-page hardcover work of art is a magical combination of Jason’s whimsical illustrations, humorous wit, and poignant anecdotes. Learn more at

June 10, 2015

Virtual networking: Open the circle

As I've written here before, I can be shy at networking events. But I've trained myself to put out my hand and introduce myself to people even if I feel inside like I want to run away.

If I'm going to go to the trouble to get out of my pajamas, put on makeup, and go to a live networking event, I might as well strike up conversations with strangers and try to make some connections.

Virtual networking is no different (except that I can keep my pajamas on).

When I attend a Twitter chat or Facebook networking event, I put out my virtual hand and I engage with people I don't know. How else am I going to meet new people if I don't engage with them?

Sadly, not everyone takes this approach to virtual networking.

There were probably 20 people on the Twitter chat I attended last week. I participated by retweeting others' comments, answering the moderator's questions and directly commenting on others' tweets.

But only the moderator engaged in conversation with me. One person answered a question I directly asked him. A few people retweeted my comments.

Lots of people were active, by the way; they were chatting with the people they already knew. A lot of inside jokes, personal comments and conversations among those who were already friends.

It felt like walking into a live networking event full of strangers, where everyone is in groups, standing in closed circles, not making eye contact, and only interacting with their friends.

I'm sure you've been in that situation before. It feels super uncomfortable, and it takes a lot of courage to infiltrate one of those groups and try to join the conversation.

I'm probably not the only one who experienced this during the chat, as many of the participants appeared to be in individual bubbles, commenting and answering questions with no one responding to them.

I didn't let that stop me from participating and getting what I needed from the conversations, but that's me.

What about someone who's very shy and uncomfortable speaking up in situations where they don't know anyone? Did that person participate at all? Did that person get anything out of the chat? Did that person feel welcome and invited or awkward and uncomfortable?

Whether a networking event is live or virtual, the best way to build relationships and connections is to make others feel welcome.

Act like a host, not a guest - especially if you already know a lot of people in the (chat) room.

Look for people who are "standing in the corner" (yes, they're online, too) and engage with them. Let them know that you're listening and paying attention to them. Get them involved. Help them feel connected.

Instead of creating your comfort zone of friends and colleague and standing in a virtual "closed circle," open the circle and invite new people in.

We grow our connections by opening the circle. Cliques are for middle school.

June 1, 2015

How is public speaking like dating?

Have you ever been on a date?

Did you enjoy it? Did you hate it? You've probably had both experiences!

Did you ask the other person out? Did they ask you out? Maybe you've just kind of eased into it by saying "We should do something sometime." (I used that one on my hubby when we were still getting to know each other.)

Did/do you find dating stressful? Scary? Uncomfortable? Nervewracking?

Did/do you feel like you were on display? Being judged?

There is an important purpose behind dating: You hope to find your soulmate, your life partner, or at least someone you enjoy being with for a while. Most of us would like to have a special someone in our lives that we can share some level of intimacy with, and dating helps us find that person.

Dating also helps you discover who you are as a person. Dating helps you test out who you are and who you want to be in a relationship. Dating helps you figure out your communication skills, your self-awareness, your self-perceptions and what kind of person you are on the inside.

As much as dating can feel awkward and uncomfortable, you do it because there's a desired outcome and reward. You may feel nervous about it, but you still do it, because you understand the value behind it.

Public speaking also has desired outcomes and rewards. There is incredible value to getting in front of an audience and sharing your message. I've written about some of those benefits and outcomes here.

Avoiding public speaking because it's scary and you have to face the unknown is like avoiding dating because it's scary and you have to face the unknown.

What if you were to perceive the rewards of speaking the way you perceive the rewards of dating?

What if your biggest dreams of personal and professional success could be met just by getting in front of more audiences and giving more memorable and engaging presentations?

If you're ready to stop avoiding, if you're ready to take some risks in order to gain the rewards, if you want to know how to make your presentations more memorable and engaging, or if you just want to flesh out what those rewards might look like for you, get in touch.

April 6, 2015

Is your audience suffering an engagement drought?

One solution to the drought: Succulents!
On my walk today through one of Santa Barbara's more affluent neighborhoods, I made mental notes of all the ways the residents are dealing with California's historic drought.

Before the governor instituted the recent mandatory order to reduce water usage, many Santa Barbarians turned a blind eye to damage the drought was causing. While many residents and businesses have used native landscaping for years, there are also still plenty of lush, green lawns.

On my walk, I saw lots of green lawns. But I also saw brown lawns. And I saw lawns in the process of being torn up.

I saw well-established native and drought-tolerant landscaping and lots of new plantings of drought-tolerant plants.

I saw gravel, stone pavers, and decomposed granite. And I saw the most extreme solution for lawn replacement: Two houses in a row with artificial turf. It looks pretty good unless you really stare at it!

There are many, many ways to achieve the goal of drought-tolerant yards in Santa Barbara. Some people still have "lawns" of native ground cover. Some people have bark-lined paths among profusely wild native plants. Some people are going with stone and granite, and using plants as accents.

For speakers, there are also many, many ways to achieve your goal of engaging an audience. Determine what works for you, what fits your communication style and personality, and go from there.

Don't like the idea of standing in front of the room and talking for an hour straight? Great! Give your audience lots of activities to do in pairs and groups and get them to report back their results and solutions.

Love the sound of your own voice? (Come on, you know you do...) Great! Tell stories that illustrate your points so that your audience can apply your concepts to real-life situations.

Have you always been the class clown? Great! Use humor - either self-deprecating humor to tell your own stories, or humorous stories and jokes that are relevant to your points. People LOVE to laugh.

Are you more of an emotional, sensitive listener? Great! Ask a lot of questions and listen to your audiences' stories to help them discover how their experiences tie into your main points.

Are you artistic and creative? Great! What images and props can you use to help your audience internalize your ideas?

Are you intense? Feisty? Sarcastic? Warm-hearted? Goofy (raising my hand...)? Blunt? Outspoken? Generous? Soft-spoken?

Great! There is always a way to engage your audience that will fit with your style and your personality. And yes, you can combine audience engagement techniques - in fact, it's better if you do. But you don't have to do everything.

Just don't do nothing.

Doing "nothing" in California has led us to the place we are today, with our state having to take drastic measures to reduce water use.

Doing "nothing" to engage your audience will lead you to a drought of attention, interest and connection!
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